Suomen Luonto
English summaries 7/2000

Varanger - Northern Norway's wonderful East
By Juha Höykinpuro

p. 4-11


At the mercy of high and low tides
By Antti Koli

P. 7-11

The coast of northern Norway and inland Finnmark form an unusual region with its own unique ecosystem. The Varanger peninsula is an area of arctic tundra just south of the Barents Sea. The primary production of the coast and the open northern Arctic Ocean feeds, or has once supported, an enormous mass of fish which in turn provide sustenance, or once did, for countless sea birds, seals, whales and thousands of fishermen.

Thanks to overfishing the fish have become vastly reduced in numbers, thousands of seals and whales have been killed, and the number of fishermen has shrunk to a mere fraction of its original size. Happily, the sea birds are still there. The same goes for the tidal coast, where a staggering species diversity is beyond the comprehension of people used to the Baltic, with its low number of species. This is because the Baltic has low salinity and no tides.

Northern Norway is highly popular with travellers, hundreds of thousands of whom head for "The European Continent's northernmost tip", i.e. Nordkap (North Cape), every summer. In actual fact this island is not part of the European mainland, the northernmost point of which lies further east at Nordkinnhalvöya. In summer, ornithologists swarm into the area to scan the cliffs populated by countless numbers of seabirds. In winter, it is the overwintering arctic birds that act like a magnet.

It's the smell that counts
By Erkki Makkonen

P. 18-19

Why, we often wonder, does a gnat like me more than it does my neighbour? And why do mosquitoes leave a third member of our group completely in peace? The answer to this conundrum is simple - we smell better than our companion, at least from the mosquito's point of view.

A gnat or mosquito locates its victim on the basis of odour, heat, carbon dioxide and appearance (i.e. sight). Thus, an appetising, perspiring, hot, out of breath person clad in dark clothing attracts these blood-suckers in droves.

We can make an attempt at warding off gnats and mosquitoes with various kinds of commercial bug repellents, the most popular "active ingredient" of which is DEET, or to give it its proper name diethyltoluamide. Unfortunately, this substance is both an allergen and toxic to human beings. Constant use in large quantities is not recommended, warn doctors. Natural alternatives include tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and Labrador tea (Ledum palustre) rubbed into the skin. The author recommends, however, garlic, a handful of which should be stuffed into the mouth, followed by a good munch and then a decisive swallow. He avers that mosquitoes will retreat from this drastic remedy. Not to mention potential human mates!

The world of the bulbous eyed fish
By Antti Koli


Fish in general possess the same kind of senses as we do. They hear, see, feel touch and pain. However, the senses of fish are adapted to life in the water. The senses of smell and taste are different in being located on the surface of the organism. In many fish, catfish for instance, the sense cells reacting to chemical stimulation are present in extremely large numbers on oral barbels or "whiskers" close to the mouth. Fish are also able to sense changes in the electric field and in the orientation of the Earth's magnetic field. Using their special electrical sense they are capable of detecting their prey in murky water, while using their magnetic field sense for direction finding. Sense organs in the lateral line react to slow vibrations in the water. This enables the fish to detect the swimming movements of prey or a predator, or obstacles in its path reflected by its own swimming motion.

Let there be light!
By Jaakko Heinonen

p. 24-25

Naturalists from time to time come across white flowers on plants whose normal colour is blue to red, for example. Such albino blossoms can be encountered on spreading and clustered bellflowers, rosebay willowherb, hepatica, early marsh orchid and heather. The white colour is often of a disadvantage to the plant, since it does not attract pollinators in the same way as normally hued blooms do.

Pied wagtails are good companions
By Matti Leinonen

p. 26-29

Everybody knows the pied (or white) wagtail. This brisk, tail-wagging bird (its Latin name of Moticilla refers to this habit) can be seen running around the summer house jetty, dashing across the apartment building yard, sitting on a fence next to the barn, and snapping up insects along the highway. According to the national bird inventory, there are 800,000 pairs of these charming birds nesting in Finland.

Originally the white wagtail was an inhabitant of archipelagos and stony shores, where it remains a familiar sight even today. The black and white, or "pied", bird blends in well with surroundings such as these. Gradually, the species made a subtle move towards human company. The grubbing out of fields and meadows provided it with more open country than before, in addition to plenty of new nesting places.

Highly successful in environments battered by mankind, the white wagtail is one of those rare birds whose future looks rosy.

From Hiidenportti to Karhunkierros
By Markus Sirkka

p. 32-35

Our itinerant writer on his way through Finland has now reached the sparsely populated regions of northeastern Finland (Koillismaa) and southern Lapland. In Kuusamo, however, he was pleasantly surprised to find other people on the trail. Magnificent scenery, excellent hiking trails, and friendliness towards fellow travellers remain hallmarks of this area. By the end of this section, the author had been walking for 65 days, making a total of over 1.5 million footsteps. He still finds just as much pleasure looking at Finland as he strides determinedly onward.

Hovering on dazzling wings
By Sami Karjalainen

p. 36-37

Glittering winged damselflies can be seen flitting around stream and river courses in the middle of summer. There are two species of demoiselle in Finland, the beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) and the banded demoiselle (C. splendens). The former's wings are entirely blue, whereas in the latter they are transparent and crossed by a bold blue band. As with other dragonflies, the demoiselles compete with conspecifics for territories. Unlike other species, however, they engage in special rituals involving dancing in the air, before pairing.

Bedrock reveals the past
By Toni Eerola and Juho Rahkonen

p. 42-45

Right next to Helsinki at Leppävaara, in the municipality of Espoo, there is an exciting location for those interested in geology. Excursions to this site led by a professional geologist have recently been organised on a regular basis for members of the public. Following a nature trail, participants are introduced to the area's geology.

Most of Finland's bedrock is, like Leppävaara's, a couple of billion years old. At that time, long ago, volcanoes were erupting in the region and the continental plates were colliding to form a range of now disappeared mountains. In the course of time water, ice and wind have worn down the bedrock and deposited the loose products of erosion on it. The swirling, rapidly flowing water of Ice Age rivers forced stones to revolve and grind their way down into the underlying bedrock to form huge pot holes, or Devil's churns as they are called in Finland.

At Leppävaara there are also 2,500-3,000 year old graves made from piles of stones, 200-400 year old iron mines, and fortifications and trenches dating from the First World War, when they were built by the Czar's army. Continuing these old traditions, Helsinki's divisional army headquarters is to be located in a cavern which will be excavated deep inside Lintukallio.